Sunday, August 05, 2007

“Stop Lying To One Another!”

Barry Bonds

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on August 5, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Ecclesiastes 1: 2; 2: 21-23; Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11; Luke 12: 13-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2007]

At the end of Mass a priest said to his parishioners, “Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. In order to prepare yourself for this homily, you’ll need to read the 17th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. So please do that before you come to Mass next weekend.”

The following Sunday, the priest began his homily by saying, “As you will recall, I gave you all a homework assignment at the end of Mass last week. I asked you to read the 17th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. I’d now like to see a show of hands: how many of you did it?”

Every single person in the church raised his or her hand.

The priest smiled and said, “My brothers and sisters, the Gospel of Mark has only 16 chapters. I will now proceed with my homily on the sin of lying—which obviously we all need to hear!”

Lying is one of the activities mentioned by St. Paul in today’s second reading from Colossians 3. Paul’s basic point in that text is that we Christians are supposed to act like redeemed people, because we are redeemed people! He starts off by reminding the Colossians that they have been redeemed through Baptism; that they have received the grace of salvation into their souls by being born again of water and the Holy Spirit. He says, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above . . .” In other translations the first part of that line is rendered, “Since you have been raised with Christ,” which makes the point a little more clearly. Here he’s reminding the Colossians of their identity in Christ Jesus; he’s reminding them of the great spiritual gift they have received.

Of course, his message wasn’t just meant for the Colossians living in Asia Minor 2,000 years ago. His words are also directed to us in 2007. Paul is saying to us and to all baptized Christians of all times and places: “You’ve been forgiven and raised to new life with Christ in Baptism. You have been redeemed! Now the Lord expects you to live like you’re redeemed! As you are, so you should act! By his power working within you—by his saving grace—you are to seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

Then Paul gets specific, just in case some of his listeners aren’t too clear about the details of Christian living. He says, “Put to death the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.”

It’s at this point that he mentions lying. In fact, he singles it out and puts it in its own sentence. He says, “Stop lying to one another.” Personally, I think Paul did that for a couple of reasons: first of all, because lying is so common (I dare say it was as common in the first century as it is today); and secondly, because it stands behind so many other sins that people commit. This is something we might not think of very often, but it’s true nonetheless, especially in our contemporary culture. It’s not a coincidence that the sin little children will mention most often in the confessional (besides the sins of disobeying their parents and fighting with their brothers and sisters) is the sin of lying. We live in a culture that is literally steeped in lies; so it should come as no surprise to us that children fall into the sin so easily.

Let me give you some examples. Greed—the sin that Jesus warns us against in today’s Gospel text from Luke 12—is rooted in a lie. Actually, it’s rooted in several lies. The greedy, materialistic person conducts his affairs as if his earthly life will last forever. But that’s a lie! As Jesus makes clear in this parable, our lives on earth are only temporary.

The greedy person acts as if he’ll be able to “take it with him” (as the old saying goes). That, too, is a lie. As the author of Ecclesiastes puts it in our first reading: “Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. This is also vanity and a great misfortune.”

It’s also reality! Ultimately the greedy person lives and acts as if money can and will buy him happiness, which, of course, is one of the biggest lies of all.

Another dimension of life where lying is rampant these days is in the area of sexuality. Sex is a gift from God and is sacred when it conforms to God’s plan. When it does not conform to God’s plan, however, it ends up becoming a lie—a lie that people tell with their own bodies! In the Catechism, paragraph 2361, it says: “Sexuality . . . is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”

God designed the marital act to be an expression of self-giving love which is meant to take place within the context of a total, exclusive, lifelong commitment between a man and a woman (that is to say, within a valid marriage). In any other context, it’s a lie! That’s because the sexual act itself has a certain “language” attached to it by God. Through the very act of sexual intercourse a man says to a woman and a woman says to a man, “I give myself totally and completely to you.” But you see, if the couple isn’t married—if they aren’t committed to one another totally, exclusively, and for life—then they’re lying to each other with their bodies when they come together! With their bodies they’re saying, “I give myself to you completely,”—but in reality they aren’t giving themselves completely because they haven’t made a total commitment to one another in marriage.

This is also one reason why artificial birth control and sterilization are wrong—even within marriage. In those situations spouses say to one another with their bodies, “I give myself totally to you,” but they don’t actually do that because they hold back a very important part of themselves: their fertility; their ability to bring new life into the world! Couples who practice NFP, on the other hand, do not lie with their bodies in this way. You might say that they have “honest sex.” And so it should come as no surprise that couples who practice Natural Family Planning have a 4% divorce rate, compared to the 50% divorce rate in the rest of society. Honesty in every dimension of marriage makes a big difference.

Speaking of lying, what about Barry Bonds, who stands on the verge of breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record? (In fact, he tied it last night!) We know that Bonds used a testosterone-based ointment in the late 1990s to enhance his performance on the field; we can only imagine what else he used. And so I and many others are wondering: When he finally hits number 756, will it be a real record, or will this great athletic achievement also be rooted in a lie? Based on what I’ve read in recent months, my personal opinion is that at the end of this baseball season the legitimate career home run record will still be held by Henry Aaron, and the legitimate single-season home run record will still be held by ex-Yankee Roger Maris. Now it takes a lot for a Red Sox fan to make that last statement—but I really believe it’s true! I think all those who broke Roger’s record a few years back (Bonds, McGwire and Sosa) did it with some “help”. In other words, they lied! They acted as if they were hitting home runs with their natural ability alone, but they weren’t.

When we think of lying, we usually think of people denying the truth with their words—and that’s understandable. But the problem goes way beyond that, as I’ve hopefully made clear in this homily. Lying can involve a person’s actions as well as his words.

“Stop lying to one another.” May those words of St. Paul in today’s second reading motivate us—especially us adults—to examine our conduct, and to repent of whatever dishonesty we discover in our words and in our actions. Because maybe—just maybe—if we adults become more truthful in our words and in our deeds and set the right example, priests won’t hear that sin of lying confessed so often in the confessional by little children.

Those little children won’t confess it as much, because they won’t need to.